Ready Player One Book/Movie Review (spoilers)
I had started to work on this review sometime mid last year when I had first listened to the wonderfully narrated audiobook of Ready Player One by Wil Wheaton. Unfortunately, I shelved the review when I got busy and had lost focus, by the time I remembered I had this review, I felt it was too late to publish it. But with the release on DVD and Blu-Ray, I decided it was about time I finally finished my review. And bonus round; it will include my thoughts on both the book and movie combined, as well as my opinions on the changes made to adapt the book to film.
Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with this story. There was honestly a lot of problems with the book. While I believe they fixed most of them during the movie adaptation process, there is still some lingering issues, as well as some new ones, I believe can’t be resolved quite so easily. A few are likely the fault of Hollywood having trouble connecting with the fluid and random culture that is geek culture. But that doesn’t make Ernest Cline a saint.
First off, I believe he is even more disconnected from geek culture than Hollywood could ever be, even with their frequent mistakes we fans of many popular cultures hate to see. He lacks the understanding of what makes something nostalgic. When I had first heard they attached Steven Spielberg to this project, I felt that if anyone could fix the issues with the plot; it was him. He has a magical touch with the sci-fi genre and I wanted to see what he could do with this story. In retrospect, I don’t believe he did that terrible of a job given the material he was given, I’m genuinely happy with the results. However, there are a few notable issues I still have with the book and movie. Plus the new one I brought up before.
So let’s get this simulation a’ movin along with my version of “What’s the difference [and everything in between]?” with my review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
First looking at the book, let’s address the terrible five thousand pound elephant in the room: Ernest Cline’s excessive use of 80s pop culture references. From what another reviewer explained; the story claims because of Holliday’s easter egg, interest in 80s pop culture was rekindled, however, I don’t buy this explanation. No level of rekindling in 80s pop culture would remove the over 50 years of recent pop culture – sure it might stagnate the innovation their own pop culture but if we are honest with ourselves, even that’s a long shot. Even in modern day, 80s pop culture is making a come back but do you see this putting an end to new pop culture?
I’m sure it would be nice to win Holliday’s easter egg hunt but how many people in the Oasis are still truly trying to solve all the puzzles? Because that’s the only way you could maybe shutdown new pop culture. And we know they are not, because in the opening narration of the movie Parzival (Wade Watts) tells us that only Gunters still try to win. So what’s everyone else doing with there free time? Obviously not still drooling over geek culture from Holliday’s generation.
I feel that Steven Spielberg did a decent job of fixing this issue by establishing the Holliday museum, which is nowhere to be seen in the book. He also included much more recent pop culture from the 90s, early 2000s, and modern-day references such as Overwatch. Sure the museum idea wasn’t perfect but I believe it worked for it’s intended purpose.
I am however disappointed to see the absence of pop culture from other franchises that sadly I can only assume were stuck in licensing hell if at all sought after. If you want to know what I mean, go look up the story on how Roger Rabbit was created. I remember seeing a comment about Disney only letting Donald Duck had equal screen time to WB’s Daffy Duck, and vice-versa.
So where are the Disney Princesses and DreamWorks’ characters? Such as someone using the Shrek avatar or how about reenacting all the scenes from Tangled – something we know is possible from the book. And do you know how many people would likely be running around with Minion avatars? You want a real world comparison? Look at how many people used the Gundam Knuckles avatar on VRChat recently. In my preference, you should all know I’d be Princess Anna and reenact the movie of Frozen – that’s my dream.
My other problem with all the 80s pop culture when it came to the book was the claim that our protagonist consumed an entire generation of pop culture by the beginning of the book. I can barely watch a dozen classic TV shows without feeling like my entire day was wasted and/or my brain is mush, so how did he manage this by consuming all known forms of media such as books, audio, and games. As a writer myself, I feel this is a perfect example of show-don’t-tell and I feel it’s Ernest’s biggest mistake in the book. Assuming Wade spent most of his time in the Oasis, either at school or free playing, when did he have the time to consume all that media? Was it in the Oasis because the book doesn’t make that clear? Maybe if he only recently got his Oasis immersion gear, I’d buy that he had more than enough time of his hands before he joined the Oasis. But we know this not to be the case since he sought out the pop culture of Holliday’s generation – all in the name of solving Holliday’s easter egg. On one final note, I don’t believe this expanded the story very much. I get it, he’s smart and well versed in pop culture but show it – don’t tell it.
Now that I gave the writer side of my brain to chance to speak, let’s make room for the programmer side.
So reality check; the virtual world of the Oasis makes very little sense, at least from a perspective of how it operates without going bankrupt. Holliday said he wanted the Oasis to always be free for everyone, which is a great philosophy I whole heartily agree with. However, that begs the question; how do you pay for it? This is a question that all major companies like Facebook and Google ask themselves. There is also the issue of software security patches and hiring a massive staff for both the data center and technical support. This would all be required to keep the Oasis up and running 24/7/365.
I believe you could maybe solve most of the code maintenance and security patching problems by making the Oasis open source (OS) from day one but that then opens the door to copycats and people find their ways around protections. If IOI wants the Oasis so badly, they could just copy the OS repository and launch their own. Now its possible to put licensing in the way and prevent them from making a direct copy but IOI has the manpower and money to write source from scratch that emulates what the Oasis source code does. We’ve seen this in the modern world with Apple and Microsoft, and they’re not even OS. If they truly believe their way of running the Oasis is superior, then all you can do is at least try it.
However, this doesn’t solve the issue of paying a full-time staff. Again, maybe this could be partially solved by powering the Oasis using a mesh network with none or few central servers (similar to how the movie Nerve did) or you could rely on donated server power – such as how crypto-currency is mined but instead of making real money, you earn Oasis dollars for hosting the Oasis computational power. Which all completely possible if the Oasis is as popular as the book claims it is. However, the movie, while technically illiterate like most Holywood movies, claims there are backup servers in place.
There are just way too many loopholes in the system to count – how has it never gone offline, even for a split second? There is also the risk of people constantly trying to hack the system for monetary gain or to just terrorize the players. And what about phishers looking for personal information?
There is also the case of contradiction that the Oasis is free to users in the book. If the Oasis is free, then why does it cost money to travel within the virtual universe? Is the Oasis truly free or is it another free-to-play scheme? While I can see charging for teleportation as a way to discourage users from jumping from one place to another rapidly, it still wouldn’t make sense to do so – instead just set a cooldown for teleportation or make rules about when and where you can teleport. Minecraft servers don’t allow it during PVP. Honestly, I could keep going on about the technical and economic side of the Oasis but I’ll spare you my rambling brain – for now.
Next up, let’s turn to the movie and compare the real world versions of each character to their virtual world counterpart:
And let’s start with the easy one; Parzival (Wade Watts). In the book, he’s described as being on the heavier side than in the movie, which he ultimately loses the weight right before going into the IOI loyalty center back in the book. Besides this being changed in the movie for reasons. It was one of the few things that made sense in this story. He’s going to be overweight and not care so much for himself if he’s a futuristic version of a “man” living in his mother’s basement… or his aunt’s basement… or a broken-down van in the junkyard. I don’t know, pick your favorite.
As for Art3mis (Samantha Cook), I believe her birthmark is not really as big of a deal as she leads us to believe it is. Sure, we all think some deformity about ourselves is a much bigger deal than what others may believe it is. Give me a break, if someone like her is being surrounded by “family and friends,” you would eventually come to live with your defects by the time you’re her age. I’ve known friends who had birthmarks like hers and that was exactly what I saw in them. The only way I believe she isn’t comfortable with it is if vanity is much more rampant in their world than our own. Maybe it’s also an issue with the VR world that has given her false ideas but I don’t think we should make such a big deal about it.
In the book, it rarely says the most obvious, so when someone like her says she has a secret that references her physical appearance, I’d expect something much more gruesome and hideous – such as the elephant man. When I first heard this plot in the audiobook; I wondered if she was maybe in a coma, was terminally ill, was only a brain in a jar, or maybe even a 40-year-old man in his mother’s basement. (haha, we all know who I’m talking about.) I honestly think one of those other cases would have been much more interesting than just a birthmark. Sadly, this is one of those things I don’t believe could have been removed in the movie without majoring affecting the plot.
And one last note, I also don’t really buy this thing about Art3mis being a part of some IOI resistance. Sure the book describes a world controlled by IOI like a dictatorship but that wasn’t well established in the movie. Sure she talks about her father being sent to a loyalty center but that’s once again something set up to cover other issues with the book. However, I don’t think this so-called resistance didn’t quite hit a home run like I’m sure they had hoped. And I would have preferred to see the battle of IOI verses Wade Watts. They killed off the resistance early on, which gives all the more reason it should have never existed in the first place. The resistance was simply lacking and felt as if it belonged in another much longer story.
And finally, that brings us to Aech. Our big brute “man” who is actually a black gamer girl, who is also gay in the book – was that ever established in the movie? I’m not at all hating on this character and I think it was the closest thing Ernest got right about modern society when it comes to gender identity.
But before I go on about Aech, I want to talk about Planet Transexual! Yeah, that wasn’t my keys slipping, you read that right: Planet Transexual. This is proof of how disconnected Ernest really is with modern society and pop culture. And that’s just after I praised him for writing a character such as Aech. Why does the Oasis need a planet (called planet in the book, but “world” is much more accurate.) designated for players to experience the perspective of the opposite sex? It’s even established in the movie’s opening that you can be any sex without a single planet to experience it in. If he knew anything about online culture, he would have known that plenty of people already masquerade online as the opposite sex all the time. And he must have known this when writing Aech’s character who already is doing this. From an old survey I read online a while back, it “claimed” that somewhere between 60-70% of female online avatars are actually biological males. While these numbers are likely far different from today and don’t account the number of girls that masquerade as boys online. They shouldn’t need an entire planet dedicated to this purpose. That is… unless… it’s more of a perverted pornographic world? Is this proof that the Oasis is like the backroom of your local Family Video? I don’t know and honestly, I don’t care. Coming from my POV (nudge nudge), I can understand why something much more pornographic would exist as a virtual game but why in the Oasis and what about parental controls? Unless Oasis gear is far more advanced than we give it credit, I don’t believe it would give you the experiences as most people would hope for as the opposite sex and I say that with the number of articles I’ve read online from transsexuals who claim that VR much more damaging to their mental health than good. And there is the question of if this planet is targeted towards trans people or simply open to anyone who is curious. But let’s get out of that rabbit hole for now.
Anyway, I feel that Aech’s character is decent (to say the least) in the book, however, they lost some development in the movie. In the movie they sort of brush it off as being just an everyday thing (which technically is true in our world) and I don’t believe they ever establish her as being gay unless you account for that scene in The Shining where she nearly kisses the beautiful naked lady in the bath – but that might only establish that she is bi-sexual and/or experimenting. I know people who hated the fact that they made it obvious that Aech was likely a female using a voice masking filter but I think they hoped audiences had read the book first. But either way, I the voice was the best way to deal with it and regardless, she’s a gamer girl. Sadly, much like the tomboy persona, I wish there was bit more representation for sallysue boys – but I digress.
Another small detail I wanted to touch on that was in the book that was sadly cut from the movie was the existence of the public schools in the Oasis. I actually think this was a brilliant idea and honestly could be one of the ways Oasis makes money. They likely have contracts with governments and companies that bring in money for use of their technologies but that would mean that the Oasis is likely not open source and even strictly proprietary. But that wouldn’t align with how VR is developed in our world yet far.
Touching the subject of money once more, I liked how they established via product placement that most of the gear was made by companies we have today, such as HTC and Vive. This felt realistic and I believe companies would compete to make the Oasis as realistic as possible. It’s also likely that virtual currencies like Bitcoin have taken a much deeper root in this futuristic economy which explains why Wade could buy a tangible product in the Oasis and have it shipped – I think that was all very meta when compared with modern day conveniences.
Another way the Oasis might make money is via in-world marketing. This is a concept that has been around in other augmented realities for a while now and is even hinted at in the movie. In the only scene we get that takes place in Aech’s private room, we see three soda cans on the coffee table. One says TAB (you know, got to get that nostalgia in there) and the other two were Pepsi-cola and Coke-cola. When watching Cinema Sins I joked that since it’s sort of strange that you would have both products so close together, that the companies must have paid so much money to have so much of their label visible. However, now I think about it, maybe it’s not a joke. Companies pay to have their products show up in the virtual world and how prominent they are would depend on the mighty dollar. The Sims did this with brand “branded” special items that could be placed in your Sim’s house. Anyway, enough about money.
So let’s end this with some last small notes:
- So earlier in the book, Wade claimed he was dangerously close to being expelled for missing classes and since he was using school-issued Oasis immersion gear, he said he would lose his equipment if he got expelled. However, later, he blows off the remaining two weeks of classes because he had plenty of credits to graduate. Sure he later buys his own gear and moves into an apartment but what did I miss? When did you have time to study? I feel like this was an inconsistency issue and while I loved the public school concept, it was probably best scrapped from the movie.
- When IOI came to Wade and made their offer, I felt incredibly ticked off that he didn’t take their offer. Sure we can’t believe everything they promise but when a company the size of IOI is threatening you with “nukes,” you take the deal. It’s like Elon Musk from Tesla meeting you and threatening that if you don’t come work for them, they will blow your town up – I think you take them a bit serious for once. And it was even made worst that things were sort of okay after that – sure it was a relief, I was still upset. I’m sorry Parzival, you made a mistake; you allowed IOI to learn your identity and the risk of rejecting their offer was too great. But because this was movie magic… or more so, book magic – everything worked out. I don’t buy it, sorry!
- This is probably the biggest fault I find in Wade, he is cocky and rejected their deal thinking they were bluffing. And after that scene with his family now dead, Ernest then decides on having all his friends to be very unsupportive. Sure they’re all competing for the prize and he miscalculated but do they have any dignity to respect Wade’s choice? And because he established Wade’s family as jerks, I felt no sympathy for them. Not even when you consider that this happened because Wade said no. Actually, I feel more sympathy for the other people in the stacks over his family.
- One thing I feel actually was removed from the movie that would have helped explain the world a bit better was the establishment of no-PVP zones and many of them were around the challenges in the book. While watching the movie, I kept hearing friends ask; why did Holliday allow PVP at the dance or at the castle? And since many people today are familiar with no-PVP zones, I think it would have helped the story along.
I feel that Steven Spielberg did a decent job turning the book into a movie and I’ll forever love this new masterpiece. I even bought the movie for my collection. But I’m honestly disappointed in some of the tropes and writing mistakes made. Sure, a flawed writer is what can make a story good but Ready Player Ones needed some serious tweaking before it went to shelves and I’d be interested in hearing the full story on how Ernest Cline published this book someday.
Sadly, I think this just exposes some serious holes in our publishing system today. Self-publishing is putting an irreversible black mark on the indie-publishing market and makes people believe that only “official” works are worth their weight in paper and ink but with other books like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, now is the time for indie-publishers to stop being so immature and show the world the flaws in mass-produced and mass-distributed books. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix and I’ll leave for next time.